With the exception of kale, vegetables aren’t exactly the trendiest or most popular of food groups, particularly to the majority of carnivorous Australians. In fact, they’re not merely unpopular, but are often labelled as bland unless smothered in sexy sauce or combined with other saltier and fattier ingredients.
If you happen to hold this opinion, then perhaps you would benefit from thinking outside the (veggie) box and seeking out one or more of the following rarities?
Once you taste properly prepared salsify, you’ll berate anyone who compares this heroic root vegetable to a parsnip. They may look similar, but whereby the parsnip could easily be the carrot’s long-lost sibling, salsify boasts an almost oyster-like flavour.
What is this thing? The lovechild of fennel and an artichoke? Some kind of mutated onion? Some Wonderland growth over which Alice might trip? None of the above. Kohlrabi, also known as German turnip, is a veggie from the cabbage family with potato-like flesh and a broccoli-like taste. And yes, you can find it in Australia.
If you ever needed proof of nature’s grand genius, look no further than this versatile veg from the cucumber family. In its infancy (at around the size of a zucchini), luffa can be cooked and eaten at leisure – and it is, mostly in the Eastern world. When mature, however, luffa is stripped of its flesh to reveal a fibrous skeleton that’s used for scrubbing. That’s right, that handy, synthetic loofah in your shower is an exact replica of something you can grow.
Anytime you’re hankering for a cheesymite or cinnamon scroll but can’t spare the carbs/sugar, why not opt for the similarly shaped fiddlehead (above right)? These eye-catching furls of green goodness are antioxidant-rich and full of beneficial fatty acids, and if you were to put one in your mouth, chances are only two words would enter your mind: sexy asparagus.
Okay, so these spiky finds are technically known as achocha, but Fat Babies sounds so much more appetising, right? Harking from the high Andes and almost too easy to grow, these plump veggies are reminiscent of the cucumber when eaten raw, and when cooked, serve as a novel substitute for the lowly green pepper. Bonus: they also add an ornamental quality to one’s backyard or balcony.
Also known as a calabash, these curvy growths are usually found in humid climates such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. When eaten or juiced, the Bottle Gourd not only floods the body with vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre without adding anything to the waistline, but is also rumoured to result in feelings of relaxation, even sedation. And if you aren’t hungry, this veggie can be dried and used as a bottle or pipe.
Chioggia Guardsmark Beet
Originating from Choggia, not far from Venice, Italy, this psychedelic veggie makes us rethink everything we thought we knew about beetroot. When slicing into one, they look less fitting for the garden and more for Willy Wonka’s warehouse of edibles. Sweeter and less prone to staining clothes than regular beetroot, the Choggia lives to turn any mere salad into a vibrant work of art.
Is this the most dynamic vegetable on the planet? Perhaps. The cassava’s taste ranges from very sweet to grossly bitter, it's drought-proof and therefore a coveted veg in developing countries, and contains the third-largest percentage of carbohydrates of any food on earth. But most fascinatingly, it can kill you if not prepared correctly, as its roots contain cyanide. Cyanide. The one upshot to the danger is that no pest is going to go near the crop.
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